September 12, 2020 (12:01 PM)

4 min read


They say that healthcare is one of the most noble professions in the world.

In the age of the Coronavirus, perhaps there has never been more truth to this. Yet, for some countries like the Philippines with governments who seemingly dismiss the sacrifices of healthcare workers, we are beginning to realize how severely we have taken our medical frontliners for granted. 

Yesterday, I received news from my mother that she had tested positive for the Coronavirus.

She is fine, she said—I needn’t worry. Instead of talking about her own condition, she said she felt concerned for her workmates who are ‘having it worse’ than she is. Ah, my mother. She always puts others first before herself.

Even in quarantine, she was still receiving calls from the hospital. She still went on an online meeting with a city official. The virus simply could not stop her, a newly appointed head nurse, from making sure that hospital operations would still continue even with an exhausted staff.

My mother is only one of the thousands of healthcare workers in the country who have been infected by the Coronavirus. As of Department of Health (DOH) data last August, 6,375 medical frontliners have already contracted the disease, mostly from their exposure to Coronavirus patients in hospital wards. The truth is, this spike could have been prevented had there been swift, efficient, and humane government response.

The longer we find ourselves in this pandemic and the more that cases increase, the higher also the demand on our healthcare system. With poor health facilities, especially in the provinces, the burden is greater on our healthcare workers. And so when these doctors and nurses succumb to the virus, who then will be left to care for thousands more who will be infected?

Apart from risks to their physical health, the pandemic also takes its toll on healthcare workers’ mental health. With stress, limited workforce, and poor job design leading to overwork, anxiety, depression, and burnout are common among healthcare workers, said advocacy group MentalHealthPH. 

When we would expect the government to increase healthcare workers’ compensation given their crucial role in this pandemic, recent research by data aggregator iPrice Group showed that the salary of Filipino nurses and medical technologists is the lowest in Southeast Asia, despite the Salary Standardization law signed by President Duterte earlier this year. 

These poor working conditions lead more and more Filipino nurses to seek greener pastures abroad, even before the pandemic. Meanwhile, those who decide to stay, like my mother, are not entirely assured of receiving their COVID-19 hazard pay in full. Duterte’s deceptive Administrative Order No. 26 allows agencies having ‘insufficient funds’ to grant lower than the standard 500 pesos pay per day of work. This is outrageous, especially when nursing is among the most high-risk jobs in this pandemic.

Let’s face it. Our healthcare workers are overstretched and government incompetence is directly responsible for it. It is high time to vamp up the material and financial support given to our healthcare workers. Mass testing and aggressive contact tracing must simultaneously be done to finally curb the virus. The government must listen to the advice of medical practitioners; it must not solely rely on military tactics while the latter conveniently escapes accountability for its wrongs.

To netizens who accost frontliners for appealing for higher pay and to government officials who slam healthcare workers for not ‘working hard enough’ or for urging the government to tighten its health protocols—I say, put yourselves in their shoes and let us see if you can handle the sacrifices that they make each day.

Let us be reminded that our healthcare workers are also human beings who have families, dreams and aspirations. Let us be reminded that our healthcare workers also fear contracting the virus themselves. Let us be reminded that these are people who also need to be taken care of when they can no longer bear the brunt of physical and mental distress in crowded hospitals. And yet, they put all of these aside when they don their thick and almost unbreathable PPEs—all to serve their country alongside a government that has constantly been failing them.

About Gwyneth Marie Vasquez - Masawa

Gwyneth has a restless mind that never settles for what is given. This serves her well as an Anthropology student, although it sometimes gets her into trouble outside her academic life. She was Atenews's Editor-in-Chief in AY 2020-2021 and her column name, "Masawa" means 'bright and clear' in Binutuanon.

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